Going on safari - should I get a GoPro?
March 29, 2019 12:53 PM   Subscribe

I've got a Canon Powershot SX60 — a semi-pro level point-and-shoot with a 21mm-1365mm lens. I am considering also getting a GoPro Hero7 Black. I'm thinking it'll get better wide angle and better video, and with better image stabilization. Plus it's small. Should I buy one?

I'm not a pro photographer, clearly, but want to give myself the best easy-to-use equipment so I can take good photos while also being present and experiencing the land. I don't want to fiddle a lot, making the trip about the cameras. I'm wondering if this pair gives me the best chances of getting good photos and videos given my intentions.

The SX60 has an extreme zoom, and a wide-angle (21mm-1365mm), plus image stabilization. The field of view maxes out at 79 degrees. It's not as big as an SLR, it's easy to use, and it's got video capabilities, although that's not its strength. I'm guessing I'll be fine with just this camera.

However I'm considering also bringing a GoPro Hero7 Black, so that I've got something incredibly small with good wide angle (6mm-33mm) and much better video. Field of view in linear mode tops at 87, and in fish-eye mode at 123 degrees. I'm thinking of herds racing across the savannah, or a predator chasing down prey. I realize these aren't something I'm super likely to see, but if I do, it might be nice to capture it on video.

Thoughts and suggestions?

(If it matters to your answer, I'm also bringing my iPhone 8, no laptop, a backup HD, multiple batteries and chargers, and a monopod. I'll be taking both driving and walking safaris, and some night walks, in Kruger, and staying in a lodge. I am especially interested in birds generally, but reserve the right to become enamored of something else, like mammals or vistas.)
posted by Capri to Travel & Transportation around South Africa (9 answers total)
We did our safari in Tanzania, and I understand that the density of animals in Kruger is much higher, but we were mostly not that close to the animals. The zoom lens on the Canon will definitely come in handy for you and I'm sure you'll get some great shots with that. Ironically, on our walking safari the animals were even further away, as they generally stay away from "animals" but are less concerned by vehicles that don't really compute on their radar.

Still, for the minimal extra mass for a GoPro, you might as well bring it. We had a couple of close encounters that were brief and exciting and having that kind of video would have been awesome. Just have it out and ready to go because when you want it, the situation is going to be fast-moving and you'll need to be shooting right away or it'll be over.

Have fun! Safari is awesome!
posted by dellsolace at 1:21 PM on March 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

I wouldnt use a GoPro for that. They have a very wide angle of view and limited focus control so for wildlife they are best used in a camera trap situation where the animal is within feet or inches of the lens. There is also a fairly steep learning curve and no real playback without downloading. The files are big enough that reviewing them on your laptop might not be feasible.

I think you'd be better off using the canon or getting one of the small dedicated Sony or Panasonic handheld camcorders. You have much more control, a decent zoom and live view. There are several good options under $500.

When you go to buy it someone in the camera store might try to sell you a mirrorless or dslr. Yes you'll get better video with those if you know what you're doing but you don't and this is a once in a lifetime trip. Also in such bright conditions with those larger sensors and lenses you might be getting into needing to buy and manually use ND filters etc which requires lots of practice and planning. The little camcorders do all that automatically.

Don't fall for the 4k or bust trap. It's bigger, not better. 1080 with a higher quality sensor, better auto mode and a higher bit rate will look much nicer.
posted by fshgrl at 1:24 PM on March 29, 2019

Also get something that can record at 120fps so you can do slo mo. It's super cool for wildlife. I'd look at the Panasonic HC-V770 or the Sony Hamdycams. Probably I'd end up with a Sony myself but it's been a few years since I've looked at these.
posted by fshgrl at 1:33 PM on March 29, 2019

Hmmm, I have been on a number of different safaris, take the gropro if you want, I think you'll find it doesn't get a lot of use.

The wide angle will capture a lot of what's around you visually, but herds etc will look like ants, predators chasing down prey will be almost invisible on a gopro they will be so small.

Sunsets/rises are where you will get the most use, and for time lapse vids eg round the waterhole.

So I think you could take it or leave. It's so small, I would take it, but I would absolutely not buy one expressly for the purpose of safari.
posted by smoke at 6:00 PM on March 29, 2019

In my amateur experience, wide angles are for breathtaking vistas. Normal lenses tend to be designed for the typical 3-tourists-in-front-of-a-statue vacation pictures. I agree that most animal photos will want the telephoto.
posted by SemiSalt at 8:33 AM on March 30, 2019

Also keep in mind that most (all?) of the GoPros have that weird fisheye look, which may or may not be a deal-breaker for you. I think the 7 Black can remove some of that in post, but I'm not 100% sure. I use an older one for kayaking, and the distortion when an object crosses from the sweet spot in the center toward one of the edges is very noticeable. Also, even though the electronic image stabilization (EIS) on the GoPros has gotten better, it still looks very artificial to me, with weird distortion artifacts, parts of the scenery stretching and deforming, that sort of thing. Some of the video I've shot is so melty it looks like a Dali painting.

Could be handy to have, to fire it up and leave running as a second source, but I definitely would make the Canon, or a good camcorder as fshgrl suggested, your main rig.
posted by xedrik at 9:45 AM on March 30, 2019

If you don't know if you need one, you probably don't. It's not good for any specific subject (animal) even a little far away.

However, for a trip to Hawaii a few years ago I really wanted something I could take under water, so I got a knock-off 'action camera' from amazon for about $40. I used it for that and also for zip lining and a couple of other things, and I'm totally happy with the footage. It's not stabilized or anything, but it was not too much money for something I've not used again, and I have footage of sea turtles swimming around. I used my Nikon for everything else.

Here's a link to something similar to what I got:

GeeKamm Action Camera
posted by Huck500 at 4:56 PM on March 30, 2019

Sorry, I didn't look too closely and that camera does 1080p at 30 fps, which is not good... the one I got did 60 fps at 1080p. Like this one, for $50:

Dragon Touch Action Cam
posted by Huck500 at 5:06 PM on March 30, 2019

Thanks. No consensus here, but plenty for me to think about.
posted by Capri at 8:28 PM on March 30, 2019

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